The top 10 films of 2014, according to AP Film Writer Jake Coyle:
1. “Ida” — Where did this perfect little gem come from? Its director, Pawel Pawlikowski, wasn’t previously a major name in international cinema. Yet at a time when most filmmakers can’t keep their movies under two hours, Pawlikowksi plunges into Polish history and back again in less than 90 minutes. Yes, an austere, black-and-white Polish film doesn’t sound like the most appetizing stuff. But it’s a hauntingly beautiful film, and thanks to the tremendous Agata Kulesza, there’s humor here, too.
2. “Boyhood” — One of the most memorable parts of film in 2014 was seeing the movies play with time, capturing it in elapse (“Boyhood”), bending its particles (“Interstellar”) and wryly gazing at its courses across centuries (Jim Jarmusch’s excellent “Only Lovers Left Alive”). Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making “Boyhood” is a landmark, for sure. But for a much-lauded masterpiece, it’s incredibly humble, warm and humanistic.
3. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” — Wes Anderson’s heroes are, like him, devotees of brilliant escapes: the beachside oasis of “Moonrise Kingdom,” the play land of Rushmore Academy, the pre-war elegance of this film’s Eastern European resort. Dreams are inevitably punctured by outside forces, and a new, compromised life must be found — some melancholy combination of fantasy and reality. Usually, Bill Murray’s there somewhere.
4. “Mr. Turner” and “Birdman” — In a year rich with colorful portraits of artists (the obsessive, rigorous drummer of “Whiplash,” the arrogant, oblivious author of “Listen Up Philip”) these two most stood out: “Birdman” for its blisteringly kinetic flow and the raging ego of Michael Keaton’s actor; and the masterful “Mr. Turner” for its total lack of pretention and Timothy Spall’s gruff, grunting painter.
5. “Interstellar” — Admittedly, I’m a sucker when it comes to stories about dads and daughters. Many critics poked holes in the imperfectly stitched cosmic fabric of Christopher Nolan’s space epic, but I found the time-traveling epic — science fiction built on science fact — grandly moving. So I’m a sentimentalist who digs space. Sue me.
6. “Inherent Vice” — Obviously, I’m also an easy mark for a glorious mess. Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaption of Thomas Pynchon is probably a noble failure in an impossible task. But there’s no movie I’m keener to return to, to again feel its electric songs and its scruffy sadness.
7. “The Immigrant” — A number of films in 2014 weren’t shy about their Big American Themes. Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” was the most mesmerizing; JC Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year” the most atmospheric; and Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” the tautest. But James Gray’s period Ellis Island tale was the most majestic. The film’s powerful last shot is an absolute knock out.
8. “Under the Skin” — Equal parts beautiful and terrifying in its alien mystery, Jonathan Glazer’s extraterrestrial shocker (with Scarlett Johansson as the other-worldly being that touches down in, of all places, Glasgow) made for a searing cinematic experience of sound and imagery.
9. “Leviathan” — There’s a stout Russian muscularity to Andrey Zvyagintsev’s bleak, Job-like tale of corruption in a coastal Russian town. A framed portrait of Vladimir Putin above the police chief looms large.
10. “Starred Up” — Four walls, a father and a son, plus a whole lot of violent rage. The ingredients of this British prison drama are simple, but its force is ferocious. In one of the more remarkable father-son dramas you’ll see (a young punk gets locked up in the same facility as his dad), Jack O’Connell (the star of Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken”) dramatically arrives. But the movie’s also a reminder that there’s no more riveting actor in movies than Ben Mendelsohn, who plays the father.
Also just as good: “Two Days, One Night,” ”The Babadook,” ”Selma,” ”Ernest & Celestine,” ”Locke,” ”Citizenfour,” ”Stranger By the Lake,” ”Dear White People,” ”Timbuktu,” ”The Trip to Italy” and “Neighbors.”
The top 10 films of 2014, according to AP National Writer Jocelyn Noveck:
1. “Boyhood” — This movie just pulsates with the feeling that it’s something utterly unique — something rare and exciting. It’s not just that director Richard Linklater managed to shoot it over 12 years, creating an astonishingly fluid view of a boy’s life; It’s how the film makes us FEEL. By the end, we know Mason (the sensitive Ellar Coltrane) so well, it feels wrong to leave him. Shouldn’t he be coming home with us?
2. “Birdman” — Absolutely bracing in its verve and inventiveness, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s meditation on fame, relevance and self-worth is a marvel. Michael Keaton is raw and vulnerable as an aging actor trying to exorcise his superhero past; Edward Norton is superb as a charismatic jerk. The cherry on top: Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunningly seamless camera work.
3. “Selma” — Talk about a movie that comes just when the country needs it. A beautifully restrained performance by David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. anchors this stirring account of events surrounding the famous march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery. Director Ava DuVernay is equally adept at depicting intimate moments — like a testy Oval Office exchange between LBJ and George Wallace — as she is conveying the sweep of a historic movement.
4. “Ida” — Pawel Pawlikowski’s film is pure, austere, and powerful — exactly how one might describe its young star, Agata Trzebuchowska, who plays an orphaned novice about to take her vows when she learns she has an aunt, her only living relative. Ida’s subsequent journey, in which she explores Poland’s dark wartime past to discover both who she is and who she wants to be, is mesmerizing.
5. “Mr. Turner” — Timothy Spall studied painting, drawing, even Greek and Roman architecture — all to play the great landscape painter J.M.W. Turner. And it shows: The wonderfully gruff Spall doesn’t seem to act in this movie as much as inhabit it, messily and fully. Mike Leigh’s gorgeously detailed biopic doesn’t fall into typical formula — and the visuals do Turner proud.
6. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” — Wes Anderson, we surrender — to your whimsy and singular imagination. This movie is a visual delight; it’s also a madcap caper and, a layer deeper, a more serious look at a dying way of life in Europe. Mostly, it’s a perfect vehicle for Ralph Fiennes, as a wonderfully pompous concierge, to display his lesser-known comic skills.
7. “Whiplash” — None of us would ever want to be in a classroom with the abusively demanding jazz instructor played by J.K. Simmons — it’s hard enough to be in the movie theater. But boy, Simmons grabs the role by the throat, thrillingly. Miles Teller is excellent, too, as the driven student who accepts this abuse, all to be a jazz drummer.
8. “The Theory of Everything,” ”The Imitation Game” — Both are biopics that feel somewhat formulaic, but both feature lead performances that must be seen. Eddie Redmayne is remarkably effective as Stephen Hawking, eventually using only his eyes and a crooked smile to express what’s inside a blazing mind. Benedict Cumberbatch’s nervous energy is perfect for the role of Alan Turing, the mathematician who cracked the Germans’ Enigma code.
9. “Foxcatcher” — Grim and unrelenting but expertly rendered, this real-life tale of the Olympic wrestling Schultz brothers and benefactor John DuPont is worth seeing both for the shocking story and the acting. Steve Carell makes a striking physical transformation, but it’s his reedy voice that’ll really creep you out. Mark Ruffalo, the more nurturing brother, and Channing Tatum, the more troubled, are just as compelling.
10. “Still Alice,” ”Get on Up” — Two more films to mention because of stellar central performances: As an early-onset Alzheimer’s patient, Julianne Moore is sensitive, warm, heartbreaking — and deserves all the awards buzz she’s getting. In “Get On Up,” Chadwick Boseman is truly galvanizing as James Brown — and deserves way more buzz than HE’S getting.
Honorable mentions: “Only Lovers Left Alive,” ”Locke,” ”Interstellar,” ”American Sniper,” ”Into the Woods.”